One year ago, on Aug. 4, 2020, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate improperly stored at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, exploded, killing at least 214 people, injuring more than 6,000, and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The world saw that video of a bride’s wedding portrait session interrupted by a shock wave just as the camera zoomed in on her bouquet, dramatizing the horror of the blast.
If you’d already forgotten, don’t feel bad. It’s been a busy year. A lethal pandemic killed 600,000 Americans. The federal government reaction was initially botched, precious months squandered. A bitter, divisive election which Donald Trump tried to baldly steal, summoning a mob to Washington and setting it on the Capitol. A third of the country refusing to take basic steps to combat the COVID plague. We have our own woes.
But there is a connection between the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut and our growing crisis here, one important to understand. Because we are on the same path to becoming a broken country, like Lebanon. Just as the claim of voter security is being used to corrupt our electoral system, so the goal of being a “great” country is used to erode our greatness and make us ordinary, the usual tinpot dystopia fighting each other over scraps. The world is filled with them, from Haiti to Brazil to Russia to Myanmar. We see what happens to failed states, where accountability has no place.
After the blast in Lebanon, what happened in one year? Investigations? Hearings? Charges? Trials? Convictions?
Nothing. No explanation for why the ammonium nitrate — the same material Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building — was stored unsafely near residential neighborhoods. No accountability. They aren’t sure exactly how many people died. Nobody has even bothered to clean up the wreckage.
We aren’t anywhere as bad. Yet. We have not had years of civil war. Yet. But we are on the path.
The Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol, the insurrection we all watched live on television? The Republicans refused to participate in the Congressional hearings. Worse, GOP leadership appointed fanatics who would have turned the investigation on its head. Four police officers testifying under oath were mocked — mocked — by the same people who routinely make a show of supporting the police. Rather than understand what happened, half the country cobbled together a flattering fantasy and are embracing that. Give the Lebanese credit; nobody suggested the explosion was a party.
When faith in elections is destroyed, as is happening now, what path of change is left? Violence. Our country is fast on its way to becoming a place with no legal framework, no common purpose, no independent accountability. A nation with neither truth nor consequences. Where insurrections, like school shootings, become first ignored, then accepted. No longer shocking or unprecedented, but routine.
The Nixon administration break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate in 1972 was a small crime, compared to colluding with Russia, corrupting voting or fomenting insurrection. But it brought down a sitting president, because those in power did the right thing across party lines. Even Richard Nixon handed over the tapes and did not burn them. Because that is what the law required.
Who believes that would happen now? When clear sedition is shrugged away.
When facts don’t matter, and votes don’t matter, violence will matter. We see the result in Lebanon. And now it’s coming here.
We can ignore facts, but facts do not ignore us. The deadly plague you minimize comes for you whether you believe in it or not. The social order you toss away to embrace flattering lies will eventually be missed by all. Broken societies are bad for business. Do you know the minimum monthly wage in Lebanon? It’s $30 US, half the minimum wage in Congo. Their money has lost 90% of its value in the past year. A third of the nation’s children go to bed hungry. Broken political systems lead to broken nations, broken economies and broken people. The Lebanese who can flee to other places have done so for years. Where will Americans flee?
The forces chipping at the foundations of our country are switching to jackhammers, vowing to undercut our American system more effectively next time. Who’s going to stop them? You? Me? We are throwing away our country. And for what?